If there ever was a recipe for the Owatonna football team to take control of a game on defense, it was on Friday night.
Taking the field against a ground-heavy, option-style Mankato East team and playing in blustery and frigid conditions that made passing almost impossible, the Huskies’ ultra-tough run defense pinned their ears back and stone-walled the Cougars from their opening possession until finally taking a seat in the middle of the third quarter.
Owatonna’s dominant effort in the trenches combined with a super-productive game from the offense spelled a 44-0 Big Southeast District blowout at the OHS stadium.
“If there was ever going to be a weather-type event, this was probably a good night for us,” Owatonna coach Jeff Williams said. “I thought the d-line got a great push and that freed the linebackers to run around. They were coming inside-out on those options and getting some big licks. Most teams defend the option with outside-in and they get secondary guys involved and I think we gave East a look that I don’t think they were wholly prepared for.”
The Huskies’ first-team defense yielded negative-8 rushing yards and did not allow a first down in seven possessions on the field. They hung two points on the board with a safety in the second quarter and picked up seven tackles behind the line of scrimmage, including two sacks. East (4-3 overall) did not move the chains until the 6:05-mark of the third quarter with the Huskies second-string unit on the field.
With Owatonna hunting in packs and making life miserable in the offensive backfield, the Cougars could only stick to their guns for so long, and by the time they ditched the option and attempted to air it out, the Huskies had built a commanding 30-0 lead after Carson DeKam and Matt Seykora met East quarterback, Jacob Eggert, in the end zone with 5 minutes, 50 seconds on the clock in the second quarter.
“We worked on the option, read our keys and worked long and hard in the defensive session this week and I think it paid off going through it several times to make sure we did it correctly,” Owatonna defensive lineman, Carter DeBus, said. “It worked out tonight.”
On the other side of the ball, the Owatonna offense put together one of its finest rushing performances of the season, springing Tanner Hall for 190 yards on 23 carries — all of which came in the first half. Hall gained at least four yards on 17 carries and busted the longest touchdown of the season when he out-raced the East defense for a 62-yard gallop late in the first quarter to help make the score 14-0.
Hall added a touchdown run of 18 yards while Brayden Truelson, Sol Havelka and Jerez Autridge each found the end zone on the ground.
“Mankato East had a pretty big defensive line,” Owatonna center, Zach Wiese, said of the Cougars that rotated in a number of players that tipped the scales north of 250 pounds. “So our main goal was to get a big push and get low, which allowed for Tanner to make some cuts. They had two very good linebackers, and as long as we got bodies on them, he could just go.”
Matt Williams caught the only touchdown through the air when he snared a short pass on the left side from Truelson, eluded a Cougars’ defender with some nifty footwork before turning up field and diving into the end zone with 2:17 left before halftime. Sam Henson drilled the extra point, and that was it — OHS had a 37-0 lead and most of the starters spent the remainder of the game huddled on the sideline trying to keep warm in the unseasonably cold conditions.
For Owatonna, it was its fifth lop-sided victory of the season and first since beating Faribault 56-7 two weeks ago. According to Williams, the decisive outcome was refreshing not because of the final margin, but because of execution, plain and simple. The Huskies rushed for 338 yards and completed a number of clutch passes, including a 15-yard Truelson-to-Beyer connection on the opening drive that moved the chains on 4th-and-4.
“The most important thing is how we got to that point,” Williams said when asked about the advantage of being able to rest his starters in the second half. “There have been times where we have gone into the second half with a big lead and you are kind of semi-disgusted with the performance of the kids. I thought East was a pretty solid football team. They had a few big victories and for us to get to 37-0 at halftime, the way that we did it was the satisfying part.”
Jerez Autridge continued to show some excellent burst and overall running ability as the team’s backup tailback, taking 13 carries and accumulating 70 yards and one touchdown, finding the end zone from 4 yards out with 5:22 left on the clock in the fourth quarter. Autridge, who saw all of his action in the second half, picked up a good chunk of his yardage against Mankato East’s starting defense. He now has 329 yards on 49 carries this season.
Owatonna took the ball to start the game and quickly set the tone in the trenches, marching 67 yards for a touchdown that drained 5:39 off the clock. The Huskies went to the ground on 10 of the 12 plays and capped the drive with a 2-yard Truelson run.
Two offensive possessions later, Owatonna generated its quickest drive of the game, gaining 18 yards when Truelson hit Beyer on the first snap of the series before Hall busted through a massive hole, angled toward the left sideline and out-ran three East defenders into the end zone.
Hall added his second touchdown run to cap a 9-play, 51-yard scoring march with 9:34 left in the second quarter and Havelka helped blow the game open at 28-0 when he plowed forward for a 2-yard touchdown with 5:59 on the clock. Havelka accounted for 25 rushing yards on the drive and finished the game with 36 yards on 11 attempts.
The victory moves the Huskies to 7-0 overall with one game remaining against Rochester John Marshall on a short week. Owatonna has dealt with the quick turnaround before and knows what to expect with just four short days until they kickoff at John Drews Field at 7 p.m. on Wednesday.
“The hardest part is we don’t get any rest time,” Wiese said. “We have practice tomorrow morning (Saturday), which is tough because it’s going to be freezing and the body is going to be sore but you have to fight through. We have one last game and then we get a nice long break.”
As the top-ranked team in Class 5A and playing in a section that features no other team within the state’s top 15 of the QRF, Owatonna has clinched the No. 1 seed in the forthcoming Section 1-5A tournament and will not play its first postseason game until Saturday, Oct. 26.
OWATONNA 44, MANKATO EAST 0
O—Brayden Truelson 2 run (Sam Henson kick), 6:39, 7-0
Drive summary: 12 plays, 67 yards
O—Tanner Hall 62 run (Henson kick), 1:37, 14-0
Drive summary: 2 plays, 80 yards
O—Hall 18 run (Henson kick), 9:34, 21-0
Drive summary: 9 plays, 51 yards
O—Sol Havelka 2 run (Henson kick), 5:59, 28-0
Drive summary: 8 plays, 51 yards
O—Jacob Eggert sacked in end zone for safety, 5:50, 30-0
O—Matt Williams 14 pass from Truelson (Henson kick), 2:17, 37-0
Drive summary: 8 plays, 59 yards
O—Jerez Autridge 4 run (Lane Versteeg kick), 5:22, 44-0
Drive summary: 8 plays, 60 yards
OWATONNA INDIVIDUAL STATS
RUSHING—Sol Havelka 9-35-1, Brayden Truelson 2-14-1, Jerez Autridge 13-70-1, Tanner Hall 23-190-2, Cole Earles 3-29
PASSING—Havelka 2-3-13-0-0, Truelson 5-9-55-1-0
RECEIVING—Matt Williams 1-14-1, Isaac Oppegard 2-15, Payton Beyer 2-26, Jaden Dallenbach 1-2, Tanner Hall 1-11
TACKLES—Dallenbach 1, Max DeGrood 1, Grant Achterkirch 2 (0.5 sack), Carson DeKam 1 (0.5 sack), Isaac Goettl 1, Keenan Young 2, Jack Titchenal 2, Matt Seykora 2 (0.5 sack), Talis Alwes 1, Abe Stockwell 1, Blake Sommers 1, Hunter Menden 1 (1 sack), Isaac Gefre 4, Cole Earles 2 (0.5 sack), Jackson Grunwald 1, Carter DeBus 1, Ethan Rohman 2, Nate Smith 1, Mahad Munye 1, Christian Nogle 1, Lane Wagner 1, Brandon Skala 1, Josh O’Daffer 1, Hudson Aase (1 sack)